Siobhan Herbst runs Polo Wicklow
“Traditionally the Thoroughbred has been used for many years for polo, many of them coming from the track. If you look back at the ‘Argentine Polo’ breed you will see that all the bloodlines originate from the thoroughbred.”
How long have you been involved in retraining racehorses for polo and how did it come about?
We have always used thoroughbred but until probably 10 years ago we preferred them unbroken as we under the illusion after racing they would be too excitable and hot, or that they had been broken badly and had little or no mouth. Then a few years back I received a phone call from a guy selling an ex-racehorse and fell in love with her the minute I saw here – that’s a lie – once I heard her name ‘Love Me Too’ I knew she was coming home!!! She was broken and had raced but had the most incredible temperament and was one of the smartest horses I’ve ever sat on. She totally changed my mind on retraining ex-racehorses.
Is there one ex-racehorse that has stood out for you?
I think ‘Love me Too’ will be the one that will always have a special place in my heart. She was the first young horse I personally trained to play polo. I say that I trained her – she was a total natural and despite it being the blind leading the blind she made the job very easy. Other than her I have a mare called ‘La Chola’ that came from Jessie Harrington and she is what we call a ‘serious machine’. I bought through a dealer who called me asking was I interested. She has her quirks like most good horses but with the right person will go to the top level. She stops and turns on a sixpence and once again was a total natural to the sport – I had to double check that she had actually raced as I thought there was no way she hasn’t been broken for polo – she neck-reined perfectly from day one, I’m almost nervous to find her final speed as I think I won’t keep up with her. We have taken her very gently as she was so special and could get hot so this year at 6yrs old we will see if she is the machine we are all hoping for.
How long did you have him/her before starting to compete?
La Chola will be tested this year – normally we might start to push them around 5/6 years old depending on their temperament – as she was a bit hotter we have kept her slow for an extra year.
Tell us about your initial retraining experience?
We have had a very good experience with all our horses, so far all of them have made it to the polo field. We are stong believers in taking as much time as possible with them. Some you can push a bit younger but realistically until they are 6 or 7 you don’t want to be playing them at a fast high level. We take everything very slowly. usually we get the horses at either 2yrs or 3 years old. If they are only 2 we generally do about 1 month work with them, lots of hacking out and then throw them out for a few months. The 3yrs old we will again do lots of hacking but mixed with a bit more polo schooling maybe once or twice a week in the arena. They will do 2-3 months work then out for a month and back in for a few months then out for a month and so on. Similar with the 4 year olds but they might get a bit more schooling and pushed little more. Generally, depending on he temperament, after 3-4 month work we will start to stick and ball or play them very slow chukkas.
What is (as a team) your biggest achievement to date?
I’m yet to have one of my retrained racehorses play in the High Goal in the UK but many that I have sold have done very well and played and good level. Currently we are building back up our client base as we had no young horse trainer for a few years so lost a few contacts
Does he/her have any funny habits or what is it you love most about him/her?
La Chola is a real primadonna. If I go to the field and call her she will come running to me, if she then finds I don’t have a treat for her she will just turn around and go off doing her own thing. She is a big personality and takes a lot to trust someone – if you cross her you’re on the black list for quite a while. All of the ex-racehorses have huge characters and are quick to settle into the polo lifestyle.
How do you find you ex-racehorses for polo? Many of the horses I get now are from word of mouth – once the trainers see that they can trust you not to try put the horses back on the track and give it a second chance at a new career I think they are happy for them go. I have one or two trainers now that I would get quite a few horses from – I’m always happy to take them as I know they have been well broken and cared for too.
Have you any advice for someone looking to place an ex-racehorse within the polo field? I think temperment is everything. I was recently given a horse and she was described as a ‘b#t8h’ but she probably will be one of the best in the yard – she’s only 3 but is a tough cookie. You want a bit of fight in them but not too much, you need to be able to work with them. Physically the best way to describe the perfect polo pony – a mini cooper with a ferrari engine. We like them small and stocky but they need stamina too as a chukka is 7.5 minutes long.